Norm and Eve have further thoughts. Norm starts:
Like Holocaust denial in general, falsifying evidence to the purpose of Holocaust denial is not a criminal offence. You are free, consequently, to do it.
Legally free; but not necessarily free tout court.
In a subsequent post, Ophelia says that in her view falsification of historical evidence should not be a criminal offence. Legally, then, one can do it, though this doesn’t make it morally right or admirable; it is (wherever it is), like Holocaust denial in general, a liberty right. That Ophelia endorses this legal state of affairs entails that she thinks falsifying historical evidence not only is a liberty right but it ought to remain one. From this it follows that she thinks it is part of a morally acceptable legal state of affairs that a person who falsifies historical evidence to propagate the lie that the Holocaust didn’t happen is behaving within their rights, albeit also behaving vilely.
Within their legal rights, but not necessarily within their rights in all senses. Again, I just remain unconvinced that the word ‘rights’ is universally understood to mean legal rights and nothing else. I remain unconvinced that it’s a peculiar or outlandish or unusual idea that one can have a legal right to do something without having a moral right. Not all moral issues are or should be or can be settled by the police. Not all moral issues are criminal or legal matters. That may be a very colloquial usage – and I’m not one to claim that every colloquial usage is necessarly sensible or informative; but if this one is a colloquial usage, I think it does point to a distinction that makes sense. It makes sense if only because we want to be able to think that people don’t have a (moral) right to do immoral things, without feeling obliged to call the police every few days. The colloguial (if it is colloquial) usage ‘You have no right to treat me this way’ does not translate ‘I am going to have you arrested for treating me this way’. It translates to a sort of intensifier of ‘ought’. There are mild oughts – you ought to be better-tempered – and there are stronger oughts – you ought not to call me a bitch every time you’re in a bad mood – and there are stronger oughts again – you ought not to call your child ugly and stupid every time you’re in a bad mood. It’s not against the law to call your child ugly and stupid, but my guess is that a lot of people would agree that it’s so cruel and destructive that no one has a moral right to do it, in spite of having a legal right. (And if there is enough of it, social workers may intervene, and children may be taken away, without anyone’s going to prison. [A friend of mine is a family court judge; she has to read piles of briefs that reach from the floor to her knees in one evening sometimes; there is a world of fuzzy territory here.] It’s not a criminal offence, but it can sometimes be forcibly prevented.) So – I think it’s a morally acceptable legal state of affairs that a person who falsifies historical evidence to propagate the lie that the Holocaust didn’t happen is behaving within their legal rights – but not moral rights.
Whatever may be your rights, you will not be a reputable figure within the community of historians, to say nothing of other scholars and people more generally.
This is all I’m saying. I’m saying that cashes out to historians not thinking historians have a moral, or epistemic, or vocational, or scholarly right to falsify, despite having a legal right. I’m saying you won’t hear historians saying ‘Irving has a right to falsify the evidence’ just like that, with no qualifications. At least, I don’t think so! I should offer a challenge. Somebody find me a historian saying that! It will be like one of those thousand dollar challenges, only without the thousand dollars.
This is merely to confuse the issue of legal and moral rights, which protect people against coercive interference in what they choose to do, and the standards applied to the conduct of certain activities by those who have a concern for them and/or the rules governing some competitive endeavours.
Well – hasn’t that been my whole point all along? I thought it had. I thought the difference between legal rights and moral rights was exactly what I’ve been talking about the whole time. Standards and rules are the kind of thing I’ve been talking about from the beginning, in disagreeing with unadorned unqualified unhedged claims that Irving has a right to falsify the evidence.
The moral right to free speech isn’t a right to have your views disseminated or published or agreed with; it’s just a right to say what you choose, without others forcibly preventing you.
Right; that’s what I said. “Which people and in what sense of ‘prevent us’ I wonder. In the examples Eve gives, I’m not sure it’s true that people close to us ought not to try to prevent us by persuasion, for instance. But no doubt she means forcibly prevent, which is another matter.” When I said that, she hadn’t said ‘forcibly’ prevent; now she has; so that answers my question.
I think we all mostly agree on the basics, it’s just that I keep thinking qualifications are being left out. If we can stipulate legal rights and forcibly prevent, I think we’re saying much the same thing. Although I find Sunstein’s chapter interesting, and it connects in an interesting way with Rawls’s idea of political liberalism and also a book by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson on Democracy and Disagreement, so I might go on talking about those sometime.